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The Florida Lodging Association Merging with the Florida Restaurant Association; Represents Passing of an Era - The Florida Lodging Association
Had Been in Business Since 1912
By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

October 13, 2005 - The Florida Lodging Association is merging with the Florida Restaurant Association, creating a powerful lobbying giant in Tallahassee.

"This is a very positive move," said Bill McCreary, president of Tishman Hotel Corp. in Orlando. "The more the industry speaks with a single voice, the more our message gets through to the legislators."

The new group, called the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, brings together two industries that power the hospitality-tourism sector of Florida, adding clout to the state's leading industry.

"We will clearly have a larger voice," said Carol Dover, president of the restaurant association, one of the state's top lobbying groups. "This means 40,000 restaurants and 5,000 hotels and motels all coming together under one umbrella with one voice."

But the hotel association has been losing members and influence in recent years, overshadowed by stronger regional hotel groups such as the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association in Orlando.

The Florida hotel association has struggled to pay the mortgage on its headquarters building in Tallahassee in recent years and now has the property for sale, with plans to move into the Restaurant Association's offices a few blocks away, across from the state Capitol.

"They just seemed to lose relevance," said Scott Brush, an independent hotel industry consultant in Miami. Brush said the dissolution of the hotel trade group represents the passing of an era; it had been in business since 1912. "It's disappointing," he said.

The regional hotel groups and the American Hotel & Lodging Association have been very active in recent years, putting the squeeze on the Tallahassee association, Brush said. Businesses only have so much time and so much money, he said, to devote to trade associations.

The merger is effective Friday, with the unveiling of a temporary banner with the new name at the headquarters.

But the merger is likely to spark strong internal debate from two groups that don't always see eye to eye.

"In the long term, Florida, being the state with the largest number of hotels in America, should clearly have its own state hotel association," said Anthony Marshall, professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

"These industries have different interests at different times," said Marshall, a longtime hospitality industry academic and president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association's Educational Institute.

Dover said the restaurant and hotel groups actually have gotten along well during the past decade, working jointly on issues such as a rollback on alcoholic beverage surcharges, and she said she expects both sides will see benefits from the consolidation.

Most hotels and motels will see a reduction in their membership dues in the newly merged group, Dover said, and a lodging "council" will be created to give the industry a voice at board meetings until the restaurant association's bylaws can be rewritten to absorb hotel-industry leaders on the panel.

Darden Restaurants Inc., the Orlando-based casual-dining leader, welcomes the merger, said Rick Walsh, senior vice president of corporate affairs. "It's a great opportunity," he said. "Now the hard part is implementing it."

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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